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Understanding Trump’s Appeal


I disagree with Jonathan Haidt’s recent post on his Righteous Mind blog claiming that The Key to Trump is Stenner’s Authoritarianism.  In the comments section of his blog I posted the following response:

I’d like to try to articulate a couple flashes of affect I felt as I read this.   I know reason follows intuition, so here’s some reasoning that attempts to explain my admittedly conservative intuitions.

Please don’t consider anything in this comment as pejorative or mean spirited. It’s not my intent to be that way. Consider it, instead, the possible seeds of insights from the conservative moral matrix that may not be visible from the liberal one.

I think you’re WAY over thinking this.

Put aside all the fancy academic jargon and analysis, step back, look at what’s actually going on, and apply some basic common sense.

It’s really not that hard to see what’s happening. It’s no mystery. You’re making it harder than it needs to be.

Trump’s appeal is a backlash against political correctness.

He’s decisive, unafraid, and unapologetic.

He’s the only candidate in the entire race, Republican or Democrat, who is NOT walking on the eggshells of political correctness, constantly in fear of “offending” this or that identity group.

His actual words and ideas are secondary to this, if they matter at all.

He’s a breath of fresh air amid the staleness of modern politics. It’s as if he’s thrown open a window to let a cool breeze rush through the stagnant smoke-filled room of politics as usual. Many people who’ve felt trapped in the room – frustrated, disenfranchised – are rushing to the open window. The view out the window is immaterial.

THAT is his appeal. As a conservative I can tell you that authoritarianism plays exactly ZERO part of my perception of Trump.

The Stenner passage seems to be on the right track, possibly leading a conclusion similar to mine, right up until the point at which she says “He is an authoritarian.” Where did THAT come from? It’s a non sequitur in relation to all that precedes it. Her analysis, to me, seems like “Apples, apples, apples, apples. Therefore, orange juice.”

With all due respect – please remember my plea to not consider this pejorative – but this analysis reminds me a little bit of a sentiment often expressed by Thomas Sowell: “This is so dumb that only an intellectual could have come up with it.”

And by the way….

Anti-authoritarianism is something akin to a sacred value of the left. Remember the picture of the (insubordi)NATION mug from your talks.

So one has to wonder, is it pure coincidence that so many analyses by ideologically pure academic social science just happen to end up fixating on authoritarianism as the reason people are drawn to Republicans, or could there be another reason? I have to say, one detects an aroma of self congratulatory preening when so many analyses from mostly leftist academia seem to be drawn as if by gravity to the same sorts of conclusions about conservatives/Republicans (From the “Paranoid Style” to “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” to “The Republican Brain” etc.) As a conservative, conclusions such as those seem more in line with the liberal grand narrative about conservatives than they do with the way I actually feel, think, talk, act, or perceive conservatism to be. Do those conclusions comport with Jerry Z. Muller’s summary of conservatism? I think not.

If anything it’s the coddling of the “chaos on campuses” and beyond, in which only certain types of thoughts and ideas are considered acceptable, and where those who don’t toe the party line in lock-step support of those ideas are driven from their careers, that’s the real authoritarianism.

In this respect it’s Trump who is the ANTI-authoritarian, standing athwart the tide of the authoritarianism of political correctness and the culture of victimhood and vindictive protectiveness yelling “Stop!”

I think the conclusion that Trump’s appealing because he’s authoritarian is exactly backwards; it’s upside down analysis.

The response to my reaction to Stenner’s conclusion might be “That’s what the data shows.” Fair enough. How many conservative social scientists peer reviewed her work? What were their thoughts?   Sometimes when one is investigating a crime and one is sure one has found the perpetrator one never considers the possibility that there might be other suspects. How many other suspects were considered, or even suggested, in the search for Trump’s appeal?

Did anyone suggest what I suggested? If not then why not?

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